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What is 'blindness' for the purposes of applying for SSI?

A previous post here covered the basic differences between Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income. The main difference is, of course, that SSDI is available to those who have paid into the Social Security system through taxes on their wages and have thus accumulated enough "work credits," while SSI may be available for those who have not. There is another aspect of SSI that differs from SSDI, however, and that is that those in two categories that may not meet the definition of "disabled" for SSDI purposes may be eligible for SSI: people who are aged or blind.

Under Social Security Administration rules, "aged" is simply defined by being over 65 years of age. Blindness, on the other hand, has more uncertainty in definition in normal social circles. Does it mean not being able to see anything at all, or do certain varying levels of sight impairments qualify? The SSA has set a standard that people must meet by producing medical evidence to be considered eligible for SSI due to blindness.

The standard for blindness can be met by showing the limitations of "visual acuity" or field of vision. Visual acuity is the numbers many of us associate with eye exams; it is often measured by a fraction with the number 20 as a fixed numerator and another number as a variable denominator. For the purposes of SSI eligibility, the SSA requires a showing of 20/200 vision or worse in the person's better eye while wearing corrective lenses. For field of vision, the administration uses an angle test where the standard is that the applicant's widest diameter of vision, again in the better eye, is no larger than 20 degrees.

It is important to remember that people applying for SSI on the basis of blindness or age must also meet the other requirements for benefits, such as having limited income and resources.

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